Tips for Self-Treating Muscle Pain/Tension in Your Back, Neck and Shoulders

What are causes those knots you feel?

  • Accidents – Acute trauma; falls, accidents or sports injuries that put strain on your joints and muscles
  • Postural Stress – Sitting for long periods of time, poor posture, bad body mechanics or lifting improperly
  • Overstimulation – Strenuous exercise and activities without properly preparing
Pain and tension can be caused within a muscle where contracted fibers are unable to release. These “knots” you feel you feel when you rub painful or tight areas are called Myofascial Trigger Points. The dictionary defines them as “highly irritable localized spots of exquisite tenderness in a nodule in palpable taunt bands of muscle tissue.” They can be as small as a pinhead or as large as the end of your thumb, depending on the location. Trigger points are in a constant state of contraction, causing excess metabolic waste and lack of blood flow to the area which sends pain signals to the brain. Your natural response to pain is to avoid using the area so it begins to shorten and tighten.

There are two types of trigger points:

  • Latent trigger points only hurt when you put pressure on them
  • Active trigger points actively refer pain along your neural pathways, causing pain in non-localized areas.

If you have rounded shoulders from sitting at a desk for long periods of time, your back muscles are overstretched because your shoulders are always rounded forward. When you use these muscles for another activity, especially something more physical, they stretch beyond the current limit. The muscles are pushed beyond their shortened length and irritations can develop.

How Can I Self-Treat These Areas?

You’ll be glad to know that you can employ self care to help prevent pain and muscle tension using a Massage ball, Tennis or La Crosse ball. To treat the area place the ball between you and the wall or floor and gently roll it, applying pressure to your tolerance. This helps to mobilize the tissue and increase blood flow. You can place the ball in a sock so it’s easier to hold onto and you won’t need to chase it if it drops.

As mentioned before, the pain might not be near its root. You may need to thoroughly massage multiple areas before finding the actual spot. In this case consider a foam roller, which looks kind of like a short swim noodle. Foam rolling loosens muscle fibers in a larger area which allows increased blood flow and is also great for fascial release. Both massage balls and foam rollers can usually be found in the same area of a store that sells yoga equipment.

If you don’t have any of these tools on hand you can apply a deep, stroking massage directly to the area with supported fingertips or knuckles.

Some Suggestions for Treating Trigger Point Pain:

  • If possible, use a tool to save your hands
  • Use a slow, deep stroking motion, not static pressure
  • Use six to twelve strokes per area
  • Work each area 2-3x per day until the pain goes away

This can take a few days to week depending on the nature of the issue. To help prevent future issues it’s best to stay consistent with your self care routine. Always use caution and listen to your body. If the issue doesn’t resolve itself in a reasonable amount of time or gets worse, contact your physician to see if there is something more serious going on.

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